DC History Club Discussion Thread - Dennis O'Neil and 1970s Batman

The DC History’s Club’s discussion of Dennis O’Neil’s 1970’s Batman is now open. Hopefully, you’ve had time to look at the some interviews, articles and read a few issues of this seminal Dark Knight run. I want you to take this conversation where your research and reading led you and tell us what you’ve found that you think is significant. A few thoughts you may want to start with are:
-What specifically made this run important in our view of Batman today?
-Does O’Neil deserve the credit some give him for saving Batman from the campiness of the ‘60s and returning him to his gothic roots?
-What innovations or character introductions are the most important?

Didn’t get a chance to dive deep into the source material, don’t worry we still want you to join in the conversation with your thoughts or questions. The articles, interviews and issue numbers are still up at:

Finally, “Vote and Defend” is back with our Denny’s Dark Knight edition. We’ve got two questions for you to vote and weigh in on.

And don’t forget to check this link for all the ongoing Crisis of Infinite Clubs activities.

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My first thought goes to the idea seen in some articles that O’Neil and to a lesser extent Neal Adams “saved” Batman. They are both very important to turning Batman’s comics from a just dismal run in the late 1960s influenced by the much more fun and clever television show, but they weren’t the only ones pulling in that direction at the same time. Len Wein, Marv Wolfman and others were all writing gothic and noir influenced Batman stories. Frank Robbins in Detective #400, just 5 issues after O’Neil’s debut in the same title, writes a fantastic introduction to Man-Bat in “Challenge of the Man-Bat” with Neal Adams on pencils. This story is every bit the more serious Dark Knight story that O’Neil is famous for. It becomes clear to me after reading a number of writers working in 70 & 71 that “saving” Batman was a team effort.


Was it Denny who made the change of Batman and was it only Denny?

Maybe Neal Adams was a big influence. He drew the look of the character and changed day scenes to night scenes before Denny.

There are five people who influenced Denny getting the Batman gig.

Julius Schwartz who became editor of Detective in 1964.

The Camp 1966 TV show which died out in.1968.

Carmine Infantino who became the artist when Julie became editor

1967 Carmine became the Boss DC Editorial Director

Carmine hires Dick Giordano from Charlton, who takes Denny with him to DC.

1968 Denny takes over Justice League from Gardner Fox

Neal Adams was drawing his version of Batman in Brave and Bold Team Ups with Bob Haney before teaming up with Denny.

1971 Comic Book Batman 232 “Daughter of the Demon” writer Denny O’ Neil and atist Neal Adams

What happened

Julie did not make major changes in Detrctive. Catmime became artist. Martian Manhunter backup was replaced by Elongated Man a non.serious character. Yellow Circle around Bat Chest Symbol Aunt Harriet Bat signal replaced by phone.

The not all that serious approach convinced Bill Dozier to put the Batman TV show on TV in a ‘camp’ approach.

When.Carmine became Boss as an artist he favored good new artists over old style artists and writers. Wayne Boring was fired from Superman and Gardner Fox and others did not get new assignments.

Part of getting new talent was hiring Giordano who brought along Denny from Charlton.

Denny was formerly a reporter interested in social issues and not come from fandom. He didn’t know who Fox and Finget were or that he was replacing them. He had a wife and baby and did not refuse work though he disliked powerful characters that he was initially assigned to like Justice League and later Superman.

Julie asks Denny to write Batman. Denny says he can’t do Camp.

Fans noticed Neal Adams the ‘good’ Batman artist on Brave and Bold. Carmine would have noticed his talent.

Green Lantern was about to be csnceled. Denny and Neal assigned to work on new Green Lantern Green Arrow emphasing socia iissues. They vecome a team.

Neal was already drawing Batman.

Julie asks Denny the second time to do Batman. Denny agrees and Denny and Neal do their first Batman story together.

So Denny didn’t want to do Canp and wanted to do more realistic characters. The story of Denny looking at the original Batman stories of the late 1930 in the library may not have happened because he was not a fan and unfamiliar with fhe possibility of using the Library. Sometimes he says he did. othertimes not. He had a drinking problem during the time which didn’t help his memories.

Julie gives Denny name of Ra’s with no further detail. He creates the character with Neal devising the Look.

above may partially explain what happened.

Othet factors Denny wanted realism but the Comic Code was also changed in 1971 allowing for horror including vampires. There were several horror titles at the time beginning with Marvel black and white magazines on Dracula.
This helped create an atmosphere for darker chracters.

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O’Neil’s one and done stories mainly in Detective can vary significantly in quality depending on whatever hook he came up with. But, his extended al Ghul arc really is a masterpiece of building a character and entire back story. The characters have stood mainly unchanged in how they are presented for a reason.

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While O’Neil is the much better writer, I think the evidence from the issues available on DCU is that Frank Robbins had already moved to a darker, more serious Batman by Detectivie #189, 6 months before O’Neil’s debut. It’s a Scarecrow story with a tormented Batman. Only a few issues earlier you can find Gardner Fox with a story that while not full out parody certainly has elements of it. I suspect that actual push from parody to moving back to Batman’s roots lies with Julie Schwartz who was looking for writers, like O’Neil who could pull it off.


Per one of the YouTube videos in the wiki the first time Julie asked Denny to write Batman Denny said I can’t write Camp. We didnt hear Julie’s reply but Denny needed the money for his family and didn’t take the offer so Julie probably DIDN’T say “Write the way you want it.”

When Denny was offered Green Lantern the Title was going to be ca cenceled anyway so he could write the way he wanted.

It was never ckear to me how Julie managed the writers. Julie would.work with the writer on the cover which would then become the main storyline in.that issue. For revision of a character like Flash or Green Lantern he was involved in.the origin story and the costume but I never heard him emphasize the style in the story. He had the chance to change Batman in 1964 when he became editor but he didn’t.

I think.there is a scene in the Documentary Secret Origins where Len Wein says he was siting in the office waiting for another editor when Jule said to him “You are the new Flash writet. You can’t be worse then the guy I just fired.” That is acting out of desperation.

When Julie asked Denny to take over Batman the second time sales were way down. Also Denny had workd with Julie by now as editor of GL/GA ’ Perhaps it was that they were much more confortable with each other that Denny took the job not that Julie told him to go to a new direction.

I saw that on the video, and that’s the way the history of the period is generally written and I’m sure the way O’Neil remembers it. When he was first asked (though I’m not sure he gives an exact timeline) the Batman books were heavily camp. But, by at least issue #389 of Detective Frank Robbins is writing a darker, more grounded Batman. In another example, Batman #219 comes out one month after O’Neil’s Detective debut. In this story, Robbins writes of Batman stopping a hijacking and attempt to kill a U.S. Senator. In #217 Robbins has Batman moving out of the manor into a penthouse and Dick going off to college. Neither hits the noir/gothic tone O’Neil would help reintroduce, but there’s not camp note in sight. Whether it was Schwartz, another editor, or the writers talking among themselves, the evidence from the issues themselves suggests that the turn to a Dark Knight was the effort of multiple writers.

@TurokSonOfStone1950 you mentioned sales numbers, so I brought this over from the research thread. Detective had completely tanked. The last year we have rankings for '69 Batman was still #9, which would have been likely the summer/fall of that year that O’Neil actually starts writing Detective (published in Jan '70). I’ve added the raw numbers which show sales continue to fall through the early '70s, but comic sales in general were down so that can be misleading. I would think the turn to a darker Batman probably slowed the dropped.
Year Title Ranking Avg Issues Sold
1966 Batman 1 898,470
1966 Superman 2 719,976
1966 Detective 11 404,339
1967 Batman 1 805,700
1967 Superman 2 649,300
1967 Detective 8 425,700
1968 Superman 1 636,400
1968 Batman 3 533,450
1968 Detective 20 309,850
1969 Superman 2 511,984
1969 Batman 9 355,782
1969 Detective 31 221,470
1970 Superman Unk 445,678
1970 Batman Unk 293,384
1970 Detective Unk 162,991
1971 Superman Unk 421,948
1971 Batman Unk 244,488
1971 Detective Unk 122,244
1972 Batman Unk 185,283
1972 Detective Unk 92,641

Some Batman and Detective Sales data with Superman as a control. 1970-72 are estimates for Detective based a 1.8 multiplier for Batman the average over the previous four years

Simplifying the numbers it looks like a complete disaster for Julie

1966 Batman 1 898,470
1967 Batman 1 805,700
1968 Batman 3 533,450
1969 Batman 9 355,782
1970 Batman Unk 293,384
1971 Batman Unk 244,488
1972 Batman Unk 185,283

Readership comes from following sources

Loss from no TV show
Loss from end of Camp phase
Loss of readers like me who couldn’t stand Camp
Gain of new readers just coming in
Gain of old readers coming back due to new approach

1968 is when Denny came to DC
He could not helped earlier.
Old Camp approach was still in effect that year as Batman TV craze just ending.

At some point, Julie must have realized old approach not working.

So try different writers
See what they do
Monitor sales that month
Give Title to winner

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You’re also loosing newsstands one of the primary sellers of comics a trend that will continue through the 70s.

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You are right about newstand sales.

It was not also that the DC stories were silly, in some ways they were always silly at least the Superman and Batman franchises, in contrast to Marvel

I gave up on Marvel and DC around the same time in 1967 or 1968 because I could not find the comics anymore. With Marvel who had continuing stories it made it impossible to continue reading them

I know I was still reading comics in 1966 because I remember Black Panther debut but I got Conan, GL/GA, Skrull Kree War Wolfman Tomb of Dracula and Wein Swamp Thing as back not current issues.

I remember getting JLA when Wonder Woman was doing her 12 trials to come back to the team which was around 1973. I started going to Forbidden Planet on 17th street snd other stores when I moved to Manhattan in 1979 and that is when I could get Comic Books easily again. I remrmber going to a tiny store at 86th street before that to get comics. Maybe also near 34th street where I got the back issues. I dont know how I found these shops

So from 73 to 79 it was hard to be a fan. I dont remember buying many Batman comics during that time but I had the Englehart run from.Detective 1979 as well as All Star in 1976 and Spectre in Adventure in 1974.

Englehart not ONeil may have been my Batman


Detective_Comics_365 Batman_251

For those looking for a good example of the change that O’Neil made in Batman’s presentation two Joker stories give a really good example. In Detective #365 the Joker sets up a secret department store, selling Joker gear then lures Batman and Robin in not to kill them but to humiliate them so he could televise it on his secret Joker tv channel. And the story is worse than the description. Then look at O’Neil’s Batman #251, the Joker escapes from jail and begins killing off his old henchmen. While he has unnecessarily complex traps to capture and kill Batman, this is a deadly enemy whose clown motif makes him scarier not campier.


-What specifically made this run important in our view of Batman today?
It’s shows that for Batman, he had tough choices to make, especially going up against Ra’s.
-Does O’Neil deserve the credit some give him for saving Batman from the campiness of the ‘60s and returning him to his gothic roots?
I would say yes, only because I think it made Batman into the character we know and love today.
-What innovations or character introductions are the most important?
I would definitely say Ra’s.

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